It's Sunday morning, and the UW marching band is preparing for another football season at its practice field beside Lake Mendota. After a cool summer, temperatures have begun rising into the 90s lately. Many in the band have already tossed their shirts aside, no doubt realizing they won't have the same luxury Saturday when the Badgers open against Massachusetts and everyone is sweltering in full uniform. "Where's my shade?" yells one musician as she lopes off the field for a break.
Mike Leckrone is overseeing matters in his customary position atop the red tower. He seems to be in a patient mood, exhorting his crew to finish notes more crisply and execute the choreography with more energy. His criticisms are gentle today, but the season is young; my neighbors and I know that his mood can darken. The human voice carries well with a little amplification and the right wind.
Leckrone is in his 45th year as UW band director. To put that in context, the football team has gone through eight head coaches in the same period. So has the men's basketball team.
The band doesn't seem to be rehearsing full songs today, just snippets and problem areas. Leckrone stops the action when he sees or hears something he doesn't like, which is often:
"It just doesn't have that pop."
"The step size has to be more consistent!"
"Still getting too much 16th note on this side."
"I'm not getting any 'Yeah!' I'm just getting 'Okay.'"
And on it goes as the band works to synchronize its steps and turns with the music. A particularly difficult move is to drop to one knee while finishing Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful."
"You'll get it," Leckrone teases the group, "but probably not today."